On the last day of 2022, I hauled the whole family to the bookstore at the centre of Rotterdam. On a whim, I decided that I needed a 2023 planner, a physical notebook where I could write down appointments without first being sucked into Twitter black hole, or the bottomless distractions of my smartphone.
I quickly found a weekly planner that I liked, and also a pretty Moleskin notebook, in delicious scarlet red color, “with 246 pages to write new stories”. I wanted it immediately, even though I still have a stack of barely written Moleskin notebooks at home.
Everyone longs to write their new stories, have a certain kind of reset, a chance to start all over again, maybe make different choices, have a slightly better life. The New Year presents this opportunity, a fresh start with 365 pages to fill. That is exactly what this Moleskin notebook is selling, a false promise that new beginnings and a better life for ordinary people like me can be bought through a shiny, new notebook. The illness of consumerism, and I needed it to write down my New Year’s resolutions.
I’ve written New Year’s resolutions through the years. But 2022 taught me that life takes a turn usually different from how we plan it. At the beginning of last year, I wanted to run a marathon, to pick the remnants of my old sportive lifestyle. Instead, life pushed me to the edges of a burn out, forcing me to take a one month sick leave in March, to wallow about the aimlessness of my life. And just when I was feeling a bit like my old self again, Covid-19 caught up on me in November, spiraling me back to the physical and mental state I was before March. As icings on the cake, my mom had an emergency surgery, my dearest aunt died just before Christmas, and I strained my relationship with my father after our summer holiday in the Philippines.
These might all seem like perfectly normal occurrences, trivial matters in the greater scheme of things. But when you live abroad, worries, fear and loneliness are magnified a thousand times. Before motherhood, I would seek refugee somewhere, a long holiday alone, a bus trip to nowhere, binge drinking with a friend.
But the first world where I live, and my current life, do not allow much time for reflection. Money has to be earned, dinners must be cooked, and the child, parented. Life must go on, preferably as if nothing is wrong. There is no space to evaluate feelings, no time to mourn.
So I found myself in this helpless state just before New Year’s eve, mindlessly doom-scrolling through Twitter, absorbing the many things that is wrong in this world. The grip of the smartphone and social media tightening stronger in my brain, not letting me go despite my daughter demanding for attention. My husband, on the far end of the couch, was seemingly in the same state as I was.
Writing a New Year’s resolution would have been a great idea at that very moment. But I did not. Nor did I buy the Moleskin notebook in scarlet red with 246 pages to write down new stories.
Instead, I switched off my phone. I picked up the book I bought recently and for a few minutes, got lost in Glasgow, in the world of Shuggie Bain, until my daughter asked me to play with her. Without irritation, we played with Barbie, and pretended we were on her show. During the “screen-less” dinner, I told my husband and my daughter my wishes for the New Year and we promised to be less angry and have more patience with each other in 2023. We watched a movie after dinner, killing time before the fireworks started. And for the first time after a long time, I was able to focus and enjoy the film without itching to reach for my phone every five minutes.
When the fireworks started at 11PM, together with my daughter, I watched the sky burst in bright, colorful sparkles, illuminating her face with an innocent, childhood delight. For one whole hour, I was present in the moment, creating a memory that would have otherwise been a vague, passing recollection had my phone been on. A fleeting desire to take photos evaporated quickly in the warm, delicate embrace of my daughter. There was no better way to freeze the moment than in her big, brown eyes.
Seneca, in his essay On the Shortness of Life, wrote this about time: “Everyone rushes his life on, and suffers for a yearning for the future and a boredom with the present….But the greatest waste of life consists in postponement:… that is what snatches away the present while promising something to follow. The greatest obstacle in living is expectation, which depends on tomorrow and wastes today… Unless you seize time, it runs away. Even though you have seized it, it will still run away; and so in speed of using it you must match the swiftness of time and drink quickly, as though from a whirling torrent that is not always going to flow.”
New beginnings are not brought in by the start of a new year, nor by a fancy notebook with resolutions. Every minute is a chance to start all over again.
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Dheza Aguilar is the Managing Editor of The Filipino Expat Magazine. She was a former Netherlands correspondent for ABS-CBN, and freelance writer for other publications. She works for a supply company in Rotterdam and is eternally juggling passion and career. She also blogs at www.girlfromthebarrio.com.